Saturday, March 18, 2006

Arrival into Oz

March 14th, 2006:

Well, hello from down under! On arrival, it looked like just another airport, but then I heard somebody actually say "Fair Dinkum" and there was no mistaking what country I was in(!)

My first impressions of the place, as the plane was about 10 minutes away from landing at Perth airport, were: red, dusty, red, flat, red :), and where's the grass?! The "Bush" north of Perth was composed nearly entirely of red sandy soil with sparse outcrops of green bushes. Roads were visible intermittently but most were dusty tracks. Sadly (or gladly for the local farmers, apparently), there were no roaming groups of bounding kangaroo, nor did I see any koala bears clinging to the bushes, nor were there any road-trains of Fosters... :( Still, I'm keeping my eyes peeled.

The first night in Perth, I stayed at Governer Robinson's Hostel. I had buddy'd up with a English guy and gal who, as it transpired, were following my route exactly(same destinations) though they had spent longer in Thailand (which was a good idea) but plan to stay for a shorter duration in the States. As we had all come straight from Asia we were looking for a traditional Aussi neighborhood to stay in, but naturally Governer Robinsons turned out to be smack bang in the middle of... Chinatown(!). Apart from the dodgy research on our behalf, the hostel was great: clean, friendly, cheap, within walking distance of the CBD and not noisy.

Having spent the days before arriving in Perth in a different big city (Singapore), I was not looking to stay in another city center so I left the following morning for Western Australia's most popular beach, Scarborough Beach, which is north-west of Perth city center. This beach has the whitest, softest sand and the bluest sea of any beach I think I've ever been to. It also has waves (as opposed to the wave-less flat sea at Koh Tao, which was great for swimming in btw), and those Scarborough waves have made it a surfer's mecca. The beach is also bordered by a grassy garden where people can lay-out if they find the "sand grains going everywhere" problem annoying.
The bus back to Perth takes 1/2 - 3/4 hour and costs a mere 1.93 euro (3.10 Australian dollars).

How does Oz compare with home so far? Apart from the obvious weather differences:
-> Prices are cheaper: houses are actually affordable, petrol is about 0.73 cent euro per litre (compared with 1.07 cent euro approx. in Ireland), cars are cheaper and when you go grocery shopping you end up with what feels like far too much change.
-> The locals are laid back (like home) and the accent is easy to understand.
-> Traffic is virtually non-existent in Perth so, for example, on the way from the airport to the hostel we flew down the main street in Perth during "rush-hour": it may have been a fluke, but the minibus driver insisted that it was the norm.
-> Currency is a mixture of modern and historical: the notes are modern plastic, but the coins appear like huge, old-fashioned heavyweight blocks of metal when compared to the waif-like euro coins.
-> TV is hard to judge: the Commonwealth Games are taking place in Melbourne at the moment so TV scheduling is dominated by sporting events.
-> Public transport in the city is well developed: public officials took the inspired decision to make most inner-city buses free(!) and buses to outlying suburbs are cheap and plentiful. This, no doubt, is a main factor in the lack of significant traffic.
-> Wireless Internet access is less developed (or more developed, depending on what way you see its business development heading). So, for example, Cork airport in Ireland has free wireless internet access for all to use and is provided as a value added service by the airport; international arrivals at Perth airport wanted you to have an account with an Australian telecoms company and to pay for the use of the service: I seriously doubt that a significant number of internationally arriving travelers would have such an account set up and so only a small number of local business people might use it while everyone else is locked out. Pity, as it is quite useful when arriving in a new country to be able to email home, research the locality, etc and its the same story in Perth city center: wireless access points are locked out to one service provider or another so it appears that you need to have multiple accounts, one for each provider. In both Singapore and Thailand wireless internet access was not a problem with free wireless access points being accessible in the main areas, but here, so far, wireless is no go. I suspect its due to broadband services being less developed: ads on TV offer broadband services but there is an incredible two year lockin with the contracts (how does anybody know definitively what they are doing in one year, not to mention two?). Still, hopefully all cities will follow the example of San Francisco in the US which is rolling out free internet wireless across the entire city in an effort to boost business.
-> The mobile phone service was a great surprise: my phone worked completely as soon as I arrived. It connected to a local Vodafone operator and everything worked straight away: even dialing 171 for voicemail worked with no effort on my part.
-> Cars tend to be bigger physically and generally have far bigger engines. Its interesting to see saloon cars (think Opel Vectra type cars in Ireland) shoot away from traffic lights: sometimes the (invariably younger, male) driver will spin wheels in first gear until smoke is visible, then change to second gear where the spinning starts again with more smoke coming from the tires: I'm guessing tires are cheap here, or something. Still, no sign in Oz yet of the odd green glowing light underneath some truck cabs as seen in Singapore.

In the coming days I'll be getting a flavor of the city and surrounding area. In five days I'm off to the east coast of the country. I have been asking fellow travelers if they thought I should stop off in the middle to see Ayres Rock, but the majority felt that there was no need. Therefore I may skip it at this stage, but may come back to it later in the year. In the mean time, its off to see WA's (Western Australia's) capital city, Perth.